Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Sonny Smith – Rod for Your Love – 10 songs / 30 minutes
Sonny’s sound gets the Dan Auerbach “Easy Eye” treatment on his tenth studio record and first under his own name in a decade.
After releasing records under Sonny & the Sunsets moniker for nearly ten years, this “solo” record is a return to his familiar guitar pop/punk sound. With Dan Auerbach at the studio helm, the music has better production value and is cleaner than his previous work, and also has a little of that 70s-pop glitz that Dan has lately become famous for, and it suits these songs well. As is his M.O., Sonny’s lyrics are simple and tend to be of a storytelling bend, with jangly guitar riffs to complement. He still has a knack for throwing an earworm or two at you (see “Pictures of You” or “Live, Love and Be Free”). This is a quick listen, clocking in at just under half an hour. None of these songs are more than four minutes long, and three of them elapse less than three minutes.
Sonny has always reminded me a bit of Mac DeMarco, only with a touch of glib indifference. Mac’s voice is easier on the ears and his music is more wistful and reggae influenced, whereas Sonny’s muse is definitely influenced by 60s pop and two-chord punk. If you want to get familiar with his previous work start with Moods Baby Moods, the last Sunsets record from 2016. “Checkout” makes me happy, and was a highlight when I saw him perform last month. When I heard this record, which was released the same weekend I saw Sonny & the Sunsets in Everett, I recognized several of the tracks from that show. Interestingly, although he performed a lot of the new material and had just released an album the day before, he never mentioned it.
Besides the earworms mentioned previously, leadoff single “Lost” is another catchy highlight. Sonny sings “I saw the river, and I saw the ships; and I took a little look into the abyss. I saw the reasons, and I saw the signs, and I know the way this time. We won’t get lost, so lost”. The title track is a super-short pop gem and an interesting way to profess your love, while “Burnin’ Up” is a beautiful track and has drums that drown out the guitar work, and even has some chimes thrown in for good measure.
Sonny gets about as political as we’ve seen on “Refugees”, highlighting the plight of the refugee fleeing his homeland for a better opportunity elsewhere. “In the place that you call home, another’s callin’ his own, so you make a plan to go, and you don’t let anybody know, and you cross the sea, and you’re hiding in the trees. And you cross some made-up line, but what does it mean? You’re a refugee”. Safe to say, Sonny is not a “build the wall” man.
Key Tracks: “Pictures of You”, “Lost”, “Live, Love and Be Free”
Caitlin Canty – Motel Bouquet – 10 songs / 38 minutes
Is this country? Or is this folk music? Either way, it is her finest yet.
I first heard Caitlin Canty’s music when I saw her open for Milk Carton Kids at the Egyptian Theater in April 2016. Playing solo with her distinctive mic stand lit up with clear Christmas lights, she made quite an impression on those who were unaware of her – myself included. When I later listened to her sophomore record, Reckless Skyline, I found it to be fine but it didn’t reach the same heights as her live show. Her cover of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend”on that record is fantastic, as is it’s leadoff track “Get Up”.
Motel Bouquet is her third studio album and easily her best to date. This is pretty yet raw, country-tinged folk music that is deep but also instantly accessible. Her vocals and songwriting have both been positively influenced by her years on the road, and the production here only enhances the angst and gravel that is just under the surface of her very pretty voice.
There are several solid tracks here, including lead off “Take Me for a Ride” with its beautiful chorus and “River Alone” with its lovely violin work. “Onto You” warns someone that although she has been burned before, she is aware of his game now, and features some nice pedal steel licks. Caitlin sings “the moon is hanging low like a landlord’s light, on a dingy ceiling, in the dirty sky… my heart’s burnin’ red as your taillights drop out of sight into the blue”.
“Leaping Out” and “Basil Gone to Blossom” are two more highlights – on the former, she advises one to “hold a hand to your heart, keep it from leaping out of your mouth, leapin’ out.” This song has some of the best guitar work on the record, and has an echo-like blues sound. On the latter track, Caitlin uses the title as a clever metaphor for a relationship’s end, and this song fits into her sweet spot of catchy and a little groovy while still being mellow and soothing.
Key Tracks: “Leaping Out”, “Take Me for a Ride”, “Basil Gone to Blossom”
Media Jeweler – 1-800-SUCCEED – More (mostly) instrumental noise rock from these California guys – this album is basically an EP of biting riffs and strange time signatures. Hit and miss, like their first record $99 R/T Hawaii. Yes, both of their records are named after billboard advertisements.
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy in This Land – More blues from Ben and Charlie, nothing bad here but nothing great either. The highlight is the stellar harmonica playing throughout.
Lindi Ortega – Liberty – This is very moody and atmospheric country-pop. She is at her best on the spooky “Nothing Is Impossible” or the redemption story that is “The Comeback Kid”.
Dead Meadow – The Nothing They Need – These guys are channeling a desert rock meets the aloof-rock vibes of bands like Frankie & the Witch Fingers, but this doesn’t quite cut it. “Nobody Home” comes closest to goodness, but I pass on this one.
Major Murphy – No. 1
Amen Dunes – Freedom
Big White – Street Talk